Inventories and way of life of our ancestors

Inventories and way of life of our ancestors

Thanks to inventories Established in the past by notarial deed, at the time of the often premature death of one or other of the spouses, we are allowed to have a very precise idea of ​​the life of our ancestors. These documents, rich in detail, describe their wealth levels, the history of their regions, the mentalities of their times, as well as their customs, their daily lives, the relationships of their members, their place within the family and in society. society. They make us fully enter theuniverse of our ancestors !

Inventory procedures

Judges and more often notaries were dispatched to the inventory site at the request of the widower or widower. He began by affixing seals to the doors of coins and valuables, then, accompanied by witnesses, was responsible for listing goods and effects, `` valuing '' them in other words evaluating them to fix the price. . For this he took out his "kit" of perfect clerk, sheets of paper made official by a seal, his quill and his inkwell, a ceremony which impressed the audience with the magical force of the writing reserved for a few initiates.

After an oath noted in the preamble to the act named "minute" written in small and meticulous handwriting, came the copy called "fat" made in coarser handwriting. Depending on the case or environment, the inventory of goods could last from several days to a few moments. These very descriptive acts have enabled genealogists to reconstitute in the form of drawings and models, veritable gold mines of information for history!

Social inequalities and recycling

This document will tell you if your ancestor was rich or poor, dominant or dominated. A big gap exists between the social classes, the first requiring a thick luxury catalog, the dazzling enumeration of which can leave one dreaming, while the second, which can range from a few lines to a page, offer only an implacable observation of destitution. alas the most frequent, with descriptions of pitiful "effects".

But whether they were rich or miserable, these heritages listed all the goods that made them up, not omitting the slightest object, because for our ancestors (who produced almost all of what they needed: food, clothing, tools and furniture ) everything had salvage value even in very poor condition. Nothing was thrown away!

This is why we find mentioned here a `` smashed '' copper bucket, a dirty and torn shirt, socks with holes, worn shoes, a worm-eaten bedstead, a `` ragged '' bench an old chest and strong '' gasté '', a '' broken and disturbed '' buffet of worn and patched linen (which could end up as rags or be sold to a master papermaker, or even serve as lint for the war wounded)

Likewise, a few bags of dry nuts, three broken spades, a bushel of ashes (which could be used for washing), farm animals (qualified as living furniture) or a pile of manure were evaluated. Everywhere, flax, hemp and wool, as well as stocks of feathers abounded in these inventories.

Lack of color exterior sign of poverty

In modest circles, dyeing was very rare because of its high price, which is why textiles only offered dull tones to the eye. Curtains, bed covers, clothes were often described: the color of dead leaves, the color of '' suye '' (soot) or the color of smoke. For the wedding dress, madder red, indigo blue or saffron yellow remained the prerogative of the rich while most women were satisfied for their wedding with the cheapest shade: black, long worn by our ancestors.

The tasty gibberish of the archives

A mée à patte = a crumb to knead the dough for making bread

One drugstore fair, another one in moucheton = a leotard (bodice) of common cloth plus another of variegated fabric

A poulangy body = bodice made of a fabric of hemp and wool

A lodier filled with fillasse = quilt filled with unspun hemp

A charnel house = salting tub made of beech wood

A boiler of air and a tripier = a bronze or yellow copper cauldron and a trepier

A work with its rockets = loom with its spindles

A buried ferry of coutty = bolster (bedside or sleeper) in its ticking cover

Two charts of handling = carts of manure

A cattail walnut charlit = a four-poster bed

An old climb, consisting of ten steps = ladder with ten rungs

A custode and a tablecloth serving as a good fat = curtain and tablecloth at the bedside

A press with two boxes = a chest with two locks

Two small breakages and a basin of air = two saucepans and a red copper basin

An old oak hutch without key or key = an old oak hutch without key or lock

A pomegranate dress = a scarlet coat

A rolling stretcher = a wheelbarrow

Other times, other languages ​​described in this expressive inventory! ...

The house of our ancestors

Not all of them had the privilege of living in rich homes and beautiful castles. Most of our ancestors lived in thatched cottages, modest houses covered with thatch (wheat or rye straw) inexpensive blankets and very resistant to bad weather, following the curves of the frames. Its only flaw being to be particularly combustible, fires were frequent and could destroy an entire village, leading families into poverty.

Depending on the stock exchange or region, the roofs were adorned with flat slate stones or tiles (terracotta or wood). Among the rich, it could be surmounted by various elements of finials or weathervanes long reserved for nobles because they were considered to be signs of authority and power.

The very thick walls were made of stone, mud or adobe, supported in the Middle Ages by wooden colonnades (half-timbering). In Beauce and Normandy, they were for a long time made of bauge, a mixture of clayey earth, straw or hay and cow dung, sprinkled with water, trampled underfoot or kneaded with a shovel. The rare plasters were reserved for the walls of churches (whitewashed).

The narrow and few windows with wooden frames were rarely provided with panes and did not always open (it was not until the 14th century that Philippe Cacqueray, founded the first glassworks with panes in the Norman vexin). , their gaping opening closed with a '' brace '' (heavy solid wood shutter) or were protected by oilcloths, animal skins, and until the 18th century with oiled mesh paper.

Home protections

The door, made with thick wooden planks and studded with iron nails, its threshold (or its `` step '') and at the top its lintel, large piece of wood or thick flat stone engraved with some votive or symbolic inscription (heart, bread, twisted crown, flower, cross or monstrance) constituted a protection against the plague of the people of wars who plundered the houses, raping and killing shamelessly, the bad weather, and the supernatural assaults caused by the omnipresent witches and witches in a world where one was always ready to justify the inexplicable by an intervention of Satan or one of his “lieutenants”. Mistrust was the order of the day against passing individuals whose incomprehensible language and different costumes could very quickly constitute a threat, casting spells on the household and the cattle. Against all this, we surrounded ourselves with statues of saints, drawing of a tree of life intended to deflect death, multiple crosses, or by an "oculus" placed above the door, barred with a double key. peg named "witches knot". Carved in stone or in the timber of the half-timbering depending on the region, these symbols, which were called the Runes, were repeated from century to century by the masons, a heritage of a very old alphabet of the peoples of the North.

Different rites completed these superstitions: the horns of a goat, a goat or a ram were supposed to ward off the evil eye. The threshold could be sprinkled with the blood of a rooster or a goat according to an undoubtedly pagan tradition, or strewn with herbs reputed to protect people with harmful powers. A tradition was that the foundation stone of the house was inaugurated by the youngest of its inhabitants and had his date and name engraved. Security was a constant concern because, as we used to say "he who has no security has no good"!

Knock on the door

Using a knocker (ring decorated with a bronze figurine) or a simple hammer striking the head of a nail, let's knock on the door! Will we get back to you? Yes, because there was always someone at home, with the rich as with the poor, where we lived in large numbers, with families, with apprentices or servants as the case may be. In the country, the woman hardly ever left the farm ensuring the household, the meals, the education of the children, the maintenance of the garden (this principle was established and accepted) only the men worked in the fields, went to the fairs. and markets, at the mill or at the forge. As for the old men, they were the keepers of the hearth, watching over the fire and the pot where the "fricot" was simmering. There was no retirement home and everyone had their role and their usefulness.

Home lighting

The windows hardly let day pass in the smoky house (the chimneys drew badly) the half-light was the common lot of thatched cottages. It was necessary to light up because we saw there '' drop ''! The oil lamp had serious disadvantages of constant attention and cleaning, maintenance of the wick, often made of hemp or twisted flax, the highly taxed oil remained expensive.

We preferred torches, made of hemp surrounded by resin for the outside, inside we used rushes soaked in grease burning in "rushes".

The more expensive candles could be made of horn made by the "combiers-tabletiers" or of tallow obtained from beef or mutton fat over which the butchers had a monopoly before having to give it to the candlesticks. It was necessary to fight against the frauds of certain shady manufacturers not hesitating to mix with the fats `` noble '' pork fat known to produce black and pestilential smoke. Farmers often made their own candles and tallow, melting beef fat in a cauldron to skim off the impurities.

Among the richest, beeswax candles offered a pleasant light and odorless, distributed by the numerous candle merchants near churches because the clergy burned large quantities. Then came the candle, originating from the maritime town of Béjaia in Kabilie, which exported wax of excellent quality. The diffusion of cotton will allow you to braid strands that do not need to be fluffed.

Rhythms of life

Thus the life of our ancestors, from sunrise to sunset and according to the seasons were regulated on the sun. In the Middle Ages, the streets were transformed into formidable throats at nightfall until Philippe le Bel became concerned about the night lighting which will take a long time to be put in place in the large cities of France requiring multiple edicts and ordinances.

From the 19th century onwards, various sources of lighting followed one another from oil to petroleum and then to electricity with the invention in 1879 of the electric bulb. The light bulb was, when it first appeared, considered as an almost magical object, in reference to the holy bulb, with which the kings of France were crowned.

Most of our ancestors were satisfied, during the evening, with the light of the hearth where the combustion of different materials (wood, dung, peat) was ultimately the main source of lighting.

From our ever more efficient comfort in the 21st century, could we imagine the daily life of our ancestors? Do you see a drop?


- Let's go to our ancestors of Jean-Louis Beaucarnot. J.C Lattès, November 2010.

Video: Communication from our Ancestors.